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Viewpoint: David Fay

A Case For Transparency

David Fay

Result of a golfdigest.com survey: 66.4 percent say it's worse to be labeled a sandbagger than a vanity handicapper (33.6 percent).

From reports on President Obama's golf match, teaming with Speaker of the House John Boehner against Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich:

"A White House pool report says that Obama and Boehner beat Biden and Kasich on the 18th hole. The win was worth a whopping $2."
--Reuters

"Mr. Obama's more than 70 rounds as president have been played almost exclusively with a tight circle of White House aides and close friends."
--The New York Times

"That's classified."
--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, when asked about Obama's golf handicap

"Golf's a sport where every played shot makes someone happy, but it gets really personal when handicap shots are involved."
--David Fay (after losing another match to a sandbagger)
September 2011

Because the only interesting information we received about the ballyhooed Obama-Boehner golf get-together during the U.S. Open was that the match--unlike the Open--came down to the last hole, I'm taking the liberty of asking a few questions and concocting the answers.

How were the sides decided? Did the four toss golf balls on the first tee? In the spirit of bipartisanship, the players reached across the aisles. Party-line golf could have gotten ugly; worse, they might never have played their opening tee shots

Handicaps? Based on the USGA Slope Rating system and the Course Handicap conversion tables at Andrews Air Force Base's East Course, Biden, Boehner and Kasich likely played at scratch. (In June we listed Biden as a 6.3 and Boehner as a 7.9, and Kasich's office says he's an 8.) The president has an "about a" handicap (as in "about a 17"), so he'd receive a total of nine strokes (taken on the nine toughest stroke holes).

Now before people jump ugly on the president, I'd point out that only 4.5 million of America's supposed 25 million golfers have a USGA Handicap Index. (The USGA's 4.5 million number hasn't budged much in 30 years.) And it's true that the "about a" handicap (done by subtracting one's score from the course par) works pretty well if one's golf games are limited to a small circle of folks--which appears to be the case with Mr. Obama.

But his handicap remains "classified." That's the problem with the "about a" handicaps: They're all classified! Who the hell knows for sure? Mr. Obama, who won a "transparency award" for open government, should become an open golfer and get a USGA handicap. By the way, if the president or anyone else needs help getting a handicap, email us (editor@golfdigest.com), and I'd be happy to walk you through the easy steps.

The format of the match? Four-ball, match play. POTUS and Boehner played their better ball against the better ball of the veep and the governor.

Were putts conceded? The pool report says no. Given the current relationship between the Oval Office and Congress, why am I not surprised? The match was settled on the 18th hole. Did the president receive a handicap stroke on the 18th, and did he use it effectively? Yes, he should have been getting a handicap stroke. (The 18th is the No. 8 handicap hole.) And I'll wager that Mr. Obama used it to win the hole--and the match. After all, the president is a guy who beat an NBA first-round draft choice (Clark Kellogg) in a televised game of H-O-R-S-E. Forget his gutter-ball bowling mishap; this is a man who can respond to athletic pressure.

Any sandbaggers in the group? The losing team always feels it got sandbagged, and in this case, I suspect the sandbagger was President "about a 17." Biden and Kasich probably went home and complained that their partner played like a dog and suffers from the dreaded disease known as "vanity handicap" (not enough strokes). Also, they probably rationalized the president's putt on 18 was helped by the fact that he has a USGA-spec putting green in his back yard on which to practice four-footers.

As for the winning team, the president and the speaker believe the handicap-stroke-allocation formula could be put to use in balancing the federal budget.

Did the losers pay off? Yes. Immediately. With Jefferson two-dollar bills.

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